The Big Ideas Homelessness Network is a community collaborative steering group made up of representatives from the community and agencies who have a vested interest in ending homelessness in Newcastle and the Hunter region. The Network is facilitated by Compass Housing Services via the provision of secretariat services.
Why a network?
In March 2017, Compass Housing Services hosted a public event in Newcastle, Ending Homelessness: The Big Ideas, where a group of speakers presented to the community on existing concepts to end homelessness in our region. The Network was formed to continue the momentum and identify the most appropriate solution for our region.
The Big Ideas Homelessness Network meets regularly to identify the key challenges faced by people experiencing homelessness and the agencies that support them. Current topics include mental health services, the role of the business community and longer term housing solutions.
In late 2017, the Network developed a draft proposal for a Common Ground facility for Newcastle and the Hunter Region and began to explore options for locations, potential funding and collaborative support.
After an extensive two-year research program, it was identified that a Common Ground facility was an appropriate response for our region. The program examined international evidence from the USA, Finland and the United Kingdom and included formal research, informal conversations and site visits to existing facilities. A range of solutions were considered and all were informed by a central commitment to a Housing First approach. Consultation with the wider community of service providers has also indicated that Common Ground is a facility/service they would engage with and support in the region. Consultation with local councils resulted in the Hunter Joint Organisation of Councils supporting a regional strategy which has been submitted to State Government in March 2020.
COVID-19 restrictions have paused any further conversations with State Government, and as a result of the pandemic, there are now a number of new initiatives being funded in relation to housing for rough sleepers.
The Network has engaged the business community to secure pro-bono development of a safe on-line storage location for critical identity documents for people experiencing homelessness (Digital Vault). A design brief has been completed and submitted to global organisation Pegasus, who are based in the Hunter region, for development and implementation. The Network regards this project, potentially of national significance, should the testing prove successful and a final evaluation of outcomes enables implementation in the wider community.
The Newcastle and Hunter Ending Homelessness Pledge was launched in early in 2018 with 20 founding signatories including Compass Housing Services, Newcastle City Council, Lake Macquarie City Council, Singleton Council, Maitland City Council, Cessnock City Council, Port Stephens Council, Beyond Bank, Samaritans, Hunter Water, Path 2 Change, Sparke Helmore Lawyers, NOVA for Women & Children, UQ Power and Hunter Homeless Connect Inc. The Pledge is an opportunity for individuals and organisations to join with a collective objective to end homelessness in the region. Many cities where most progress has been achieved towards this objective have begun with a pledge to focus interest, advocate for change and coordinate the many efforts required to achieve this ambition. The Pledge now has over 80 signatories from individuals, businesses and local government organisations across the community.
Unlike most cities in Australia, Newcastle does not currently have a mental health assertive outreach program. The loss of funding for the previous program (Reaching Home) has had a considerable impact on the region and the Network has explored options to assist with potential reinstatement of a similar program.
After consultation with the group and wider community, the Network established a number of key homeless services that could be listed on a printed business card as a resource for people in the community who might come across someone sleeping rough. Lake Macquarie City Council provided pro-bono printing services for an initial batch of hard copies. The card can also be downloaded from our website here, by others in the community for printing and distribution amongst their local communities.